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Taking the Next Step

Red Wings prospect Tyler Bertuzzi continues evolution from a fighter and agitator to a complete player who can contribute in the NHL

by Josh Berenter @JBerenter / Detroit Red Wings

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Tyler Bertuzzi doesn't want to be put into a box, and branded only as a fighter and an agitator.

Sure, that's a large aspect of his game and it's the niche that he's carved out for himself in his junior hockey career, but the 21-year-old has worked tirelessly to develop his game and become an all-around, complete player as he continues his lifelong quest to make it to the NHL.

A native of Sudbury, Ontario, Bertuzzi obviously grew up with hockey bloodlines as the nephew of former Red Wings enforcer and 18-year NHL veteran Todd Bertuzzi. But the Red Wings' 2013 second-round draft pick doesn't necessarily want to follow in the exact footsteps of his uncle, who was known primarily for being an agitator.

"My game has switched a little bit," Bertuzzi said. "I used to be a fighter, an agitator, but I've developed a lot more skill, more hockey sense. I think I can score now, I can agitate, I can work hard, I can do as much as I can and I think my game's evolved."

Last season with the Red Wings' American Hockey League affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins, Bertuzzi compiled a modest 12 goals, 18 assists and plus-7 rating in 71 games. But his numbers exploded in the AHL playoffs as he earned seven goals and an assist in 11 postseason games, showing that he can perform well under pressure, and provide more than just an enforcing presence.

"He has that element in his game. He plays that gritty style and that was very apparent in the playoffs," said Griffins coach Todd Nelson. "But with that, he's mixed in the skill component. I've seen Tyler-from the time that I've had him-mature so much as a person and as a hockey player."

Bertuzzi has continued to show the development in his game this week at the 2016 NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, wearing an A on his chest and becoming a leader among his younger teammates. Bertuzzi, who lived with his uncle in Detroit this offseason and spent the entire summer working on his game, is competing in his fourth Prospect Tournament and has embraced a leadership role, adding another aspect to his repertoire.

"It's on and off the ice," he said. "Me and the leaders got together with the guys and tried to let them know it's not an individual tournament, it's a team tournament, and we want to win this thing. (I just want to) help them on and off the ice. I'm always here."

Nelson, who's also coaching the aspiring Red Wings players in this week's Prospect Tournament, said he's impressed with how quickly Bertuzzi has matured, both on and off the ice, and said everyone in the organization has taken notice.

"I think he's just maturing as a hockey player," Nelson said. "He's taking to heart being one of the leaders in our room and that's fantastic for the organization to see because we want people to take charge and be leaders, and Tyler falls into that group."

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound left wing hasn't only been a vocal leader this week, he's also contributed on the scoreboard.

In the Red Wings' 6-4 victory over the back-to-back defending tournament champion Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, Bertuzzi earned a goal, an assist and a plus-2 rating. He said he needs to continue developing every aspect of his game in order to make his dream of playing in the NHL come true.

"You need to be a good player overall to play in the NHL," he said. "You can't just have one skill. You've got to have little bits and pieces of it all and that's what I've tried to work towards. I've been getting better every year, coming to these development camps here and doing the little things that make you better as a player on and off the ice. It's been a good four-year run, and I'm excited."

Red Wings executives expect Bertuzzi to be one of the few players in this year's Prospect Tournament to threaten for a spot on Detroit's NHL roster at some point this season, but Bertuzzi knows he will have to earn his chance and said he's willing to put in the work to do that.

"(I'm going to) just come into camp and work hard," he said. "You have one goal and that's to make the NHL. You've got to do whatever it takes to make it."

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